by Michael Albert
ZNet, November 06, 2005
Toward a New Political System
My first and arguably most personally
surprising encounter with the Bolivarian Revolution was at the
Ministry for Popular Participation, which was created in accord,
I was told, with Chavez's desire "that the people should
I asked the officials we interviewed,
"What does that mean, that the people should take power?"
After noting thousands of years of "empires obstructing people
from participating in politics," all culminating in "the
North American empire," the official said the "U.S.
has had 200 years of representative government, but in your system
people turn over control to others." Instead, in Venezuela,
"we humbly are proposing a system where people hold power
in a participatory and protagonist democracy. We want a new kind
of democracy to attain a new kind of society."
On the wall was a diagram of their aims.
It had lots of little circles, then other larger ones in another
layer, and so on. The idea, they said, "was to establish
numerous local grassroots assemblies or councils of citizens where
people could directly express themselves." These local councils
would be the foundational components of "a new system of
The bottom layer of the vision focuses
on communities with "common habits and customs," the
officials said. "We define them as comprising 200 to 400
families, or 1000 to 2000 people each." One could of course
imagine sub units within each local unit, as well, but that wasn't
immediately on their agenda, nor was it in their diagram. The
local units would in turn send "elected spokespersons"
to units another layer up. Units in this second layer would "encompass
a broader geographic region," and then from there, "spokespeople
would be elected to another layer, and so on," creating a
network covering "parishes, municipalities, states, and the
The participation officials, explaining
their diagram and their goal, said the smallest units were meant
to become "the decision-making core of the new Venezuelan
polity." Chavez and this ministry hoped to have, they said,
"3,000 local assemblies in place by the new year." Their
goal was to have "enough in place, throughout the country,
in 4 or 5 years, to account for 26 million Venezuelans."
They didn't want "a dictatorship
of the proletariat or of any other kind," they said. Strikingly,
they also said they didn't want "what Che died for, though
they wanted to learn from that." They wanted to build something
new, from the bottom.
I asked, "What happens if the local
assemblies want some new policy, and the ministers, legislature,
or Chavez don't want it?" "No matter," they said,
"the assemblies, once they are in place and operating, rule."
But, I said, "you don't want an assembly
of 100 families making a decision for the whole country, surely."
"Correct," came the answer, "the local assemblies
can only make final decisions bearing just on their own area."
"Suppose one assembly decides it
wants some change bearing on crime that has to do with federal
courts or police or whatever, extending beyond that community?"
I asked. "What happens? When does the law or policy change?"
"On every level there should be a
response" came the reply. "On the lowest level assemblies
would do whatever they can within their community. But crime goes
beyond a community, and requires going to the next higher levels
where the issues would have to be confronted, too. On the municipal
level they might change ordinances, etc., to also respond. And
it could go higher, then."
Okay, I asked, "Suppose one local
assembly wants a younger voting age. They bring it to the next
higher level and members there are excited about it too. Does
it go up to a legislature and does the legislature have any choice?"
I was told the local unit would - through
its spokespeople - send the proposal to the next layer of the
popular democratic structures. "Had they decided something
bearing only on their local neighborhood, which is all that is
happening now, such as the age required for local votes, it would
simply be enacted, under their supervision, for them, without
having to be discussed more widely." But if their desire
stretched wider, as a general new voting law for national elections
would, "their proposal would go up, as far as is relevant.
Then the proposal would go back to the base of all assemblies
for all to consider."
These Bolivarians, entrusted by Chavez's
administration with building a new, parallel polity, didn't want
any more representative decision making than absolutely necessary.
They wanted the proposal from one assembly to go up not so that
it could be decided by representatives, but so that it could be
discussed by spokespeople and then be brought back to other local
assemblies by their spokespeople, eventually to all of them, to
be decided at large. "If support came," I was told,
"then the goal is that it would yield a new voting age, whether
Chavez or mayors or the legislature or anyone else wanted the
change or not."
I said surely there must be many elected
or just appointed mayors, governors, or bureaucrats who would
obstruct this vision, not wanting their power reduced or that
of the populace increased. Yes, I was told, "many bureaucrats
have held positions for twenty or thirty years and about sixty
percent of them are putting breaks on the proposal."
"Even among ministers in the Chavez
administration," I asked, "do some resent that they
would go from having power to just obeying the public? Cuba's
poder popular began with many of the ideals you express,"
I noted, "but never got to the point where the national power
was participatory. Do you believe that the Chavez government will
help the assembly system reach its full development, or that after
awhile the assembly system will have to push against the government
to get full power?"
The answer was "only the organized
population can decide. We are on a path to invent a new democracy.
We have gone forward from what we had before. There are no guarantees,
but we are trying to go further." There was no need, however,
the officials said, to remove or otherwise forcefully conflict
with the old structures. Rather, the new system would be built
alongside what now exists and would prove its worth over time,
in parallel. Many in the old would come around, others wouldn't.
But either way, in time the old forms would be replaced by the
impressive reality of the new forms' success, not by fiat or by
"How will Chavez's initiative encourage
people to create these local assemblies?" I wondered. The
whole assembly structure was a project in development, the officials
said, and there were diverse ideas about how to make it happen.
Here was the most striking and instructive one I heard. "We
Bolivarians have a program for citizens in barrios to gain ownership
of their current dwellings. They need only petition to do so,
but they have to do that in groups of 200 families or more for
the petition to be accepted." In that case, the dwellers
get their homes and the community of families hopefully becomes
a grassroots assembly.
I asked, "Do you find that the government
has to prod the people to participate?" The officials replied,
"The people are taking initiative, but it is very important
that the government supports them." People taking power involves
"a new way of thinking and a new culture," the officials
said. "The president and we are working hard to make participatory
democracy happen, but we all have limitations in our heads to
overcome, as well as old structures." This was a recurring
theme. In Venezuela, while there have been coups and thus struggle
against capital and also external imperialism, at the moment the
struggle seems to be more against the imprint of the past on even
poor people's habits and beliefs.
"How many people," I asked,
"already support this program?" "The full picture
of assemblies is very new, just about to be announced," they
said, "but the general goal of people's power maybe about
a quarter understand and strongly support, with more soon."
They emphasized they didn't want a system "that gives power
to another person." They didn't "want representative
democracy." The people elect, in the Venezuelan model, "spokespeople,
not representatives." What will be proposed in one unit will
get to the other units by going up via elected spokespeople, and
then back down to the base, through other spokespeople, for further
discussion and decision. What will be decided at lowest levels
will be binding. "The country has 335 municipalities,"
they noted. About 255 are with the president."
Discussions about police and courts are
also proceeding, I was told, but I didn't get to talk with people
working on that dimension of change and apparently it was, as
yet, not nearly as far along. These officials told me that the
"socialism we are trying to construct incorporates understanding
the history of past efforts in Russia, Cuba, etc., but it is not
about state run enterprises or a dictatorship. We have to create
our own model to reduce the work week, to defend nature, and to
create social justice for both the collective and the individual.
If it continues, capitalism will put an end to the planet. We
have to find a way for everybody to have a better standard of
living but also preserve the planet. A virtuous individual thinks
about the community. That is what we are looking for."
Regarding health, though I didn't get
to talk to any government officials directly involved with the
program, or to any doctors dispensing medicine, it was clear that
again the government hadn't simply taken over the old structures
and as yet had no inclination to do so. Instead, in cooperation
with Cuba, which sent 20,000 doctors, the government had set up
new clinics all over the country, dispensing health care locally
in barrios, bringing to the poor their first local health care.
We were told these clinics serve people's needs, operate pretty
democratically, and have doctors who earn typical workers pay
and often less. The people love the clinics and the Chavista health
officials, I would bet, look for the old structures to bend and
break under the competitive pressure of the new ones, but without
having been directly coerced.
We visited barrios, which were gigantic
stretches of hillside covered with small shack-like homes, and
we saw intermittently the newly constructed small but clean medical
clinics the Cuban doctors worked from. Compared to nothing, which
was the correct comparison, it was a huge improvement and helps
explain Chavez's support from the barrio communities. We also
heard about a plan for eye care, even offering free eye operations
of diverse kinds, 500,000 operations over ten years, to poor U.S.
citizens. The Venezuelans would provide the transportation. The
Cubans would do the surgery. Having eye problems myself, I listened
closely, smiling at the thought.
The same general pattern was true of a
project aimed at raising literacy throughout Venezuela. With the
same logic and methodology, this project also proceeded by not
fighting with the old, but instead existing alongside it. In under
two years, Chavez reports and apparently UNESCO verifies, Venezuela
has eliminated illiteracy.
Indeed, this same pattern is being employed,
we saw, even for higher education. The government didn't take
over the national universities, private or public. Instead, after
the oil industry strike failed during the last coup attempt, when
almost a third of the industry's managers and other technical
workers were fired for having participated in trying to bring
down the government, many of the prior oil administration buildings
were no longer needed. Obviously the bureaucratic waste and fraud
had been enormous. A group of these liberated buildings were transformed
into the new Bolivarian University.
Workers councils ruled the new university.
The government minister of education became its Rector. In time,
he overrode the council, determining instead that there would
be only meetings of smaller groups, and that he would only interact
with representatives from those. This characteristic pattern of
a central planner interacting with a workplace and demanding a
chain of command in it and in that way interfering with direct
self management was disturbing. The Bolivarian revolution is juggling
many tendencies with roots in many aspects of social life. But
the pedagogy of the new university is, I learned by interviewing
a professor there, very innovative, emphasizing serving diverse
communities by students having to do projects at the grassroots,
having to relate their studies to social conditions and needs,
and having grading being a shared task for students, faculty,
and community residents.
In an interview with Justin Podur the
then University Rector put it this way, "We will prove that
you can have quality and equity in education. We will form holistic
professionals who are citizens. They will learn ethics, social
responsibility, respect for a Latin American and Caribbean identity,
solidarity, respect. The professional produced by this institution
will work for the transformation of society. She will be a critical
thinker who can stimulate others and generate questions. Our curriculum
is based on 'axes' of education. Any plan or program of study
- say an engineering or teaching professional program - is your
'professional axis'. But you also have a cultural axis, a political
axis, ethical axis, aesthetics axis, a social-community interaction
axis where you work directly with sectors of society outside of
the university from the start."
Bolivarian University has about 7,000
students, we were told, and about 700 staff of whom 250 are non-faculty
but only 120 are full-time professors. Some faculty resist the
new pedagogy as too flexible. Some see it as too community oriented.
In meetings there are radicals and reactionaries. Some faculty
resist the trend toward providing classes for non-teaching staff.
Some resist having steadily more equitable pay relations among
all employees. Some resist the drive to bring the school's resources
out into the country, setting up missions beyond Caracas, promoting
higher education while reaching out educationally to Venezuela's
rural areas for the first time.
Looked at in the large, Bolivarian University
competes with the rest of the system of higher education by offering
an evolving, but already dramatically different experience. The
minister heading Bolivarian University might not be optimal in
terms of workers self management, but we were told he does talk
frequently and forcefully about proving that the new approaches
are better and replacing the old ways via having people see the
benefits of change. The students at Bolivarian University, not
surprisingly, are mostly poor, which is the opposite of the old
system. Ties between the school and local co-ops, which are in
turn constructed with uniform wages and council self management,
are continually extended, building a kind of parallel world to
what has gone before.
Considering still another key domain of
social life, media, the emerging pattern continued. A look at
the daily newspapers showed that of the first 25 articles, reading
from the first page forward, fully 20 were broad attacks on or
highly critical of Chavez. The rest were on entirely other topics.
And this was typical, day after day, I was told. The papers are
privately held corporations, not surprisingly hostile toward Chavez's
inclinations. Chavez doesn't restrict them, however, much less
nationalize or otherwise take them over. The same situation holds
for key TV stations. Regarding the TV stations, however, and I
bet something like this will also happen with print before too
long, the government has a strategy.
VIVE TV is a new station created, like
Bolivarian University, by the Chavez government. We visited and
enjoyed touring its facilities. The widest salary difference,
from the head of the company to people who cleaned up, was three
to one, but the new payment policy, being steadily if slowly enforced,
was to attain equal hourly pay for all by periodically raising
wages of those at the bottom until they reached parity.
VIVE has roughly 300 employees. Their
equipment wasn't like CBS, but it was certainly excellent and
far reaching in its potential. The new VIVE website presents their
shows, archived, for the world to see. The station's governing
body is, of course, a worker's assembly. Workers at VIVE lacking
skills are encouraged to take courses, including in film production
and other topics, given right on the premises, and those facilities
are also used to teach citizens from Caracas and more widely how
to film in their own locales.
Indeed, the station's mandate was to provide
a voice for the people. Its shows, we were told, routinely present
citizens speaking their mind, including voices from well outside
Caracas, which was a first for Venezuela. To that end, VIVE undertakes
lots of community training, distributing cameras to local citizens
as well, so people around the country can send in footage and
even finished edited material, for national display.
In some respects VIVE is like a local
community cable station in the U.S., except that it is national
and the élan is far, far higher, and the desire to incorporate
the seeds of the future in the present structure is far, far more
explicit and radical, with the employees seeing themselves as
presenting to the country and the world a new kind of media that,
they hope, will be a model picked up elsewhere as well.
VIVE takes no ads, "to avoid being
controlled." There is actually, on the shows, much criticism
of the government, since the shows convey grass-roots opinions.
But this criticism, unlike that on mainstream private stations,
is honest and heartfelt, not manufactured. Rather than trying
to create dissension, it is constructive.
Along with VIVE and a national public
station directly under government control, there is also a new
federal law which imposes on private stations that 25% of their
shows must be produced by independent producers, not by the stations
themselves. This is a kind of service requirement, but, interestingly,
it is VIVE who trains many of these contracting producers. Here
again is evidence of a kind of multi-pronged, legal, almost stealth-like
incursion on old ways, both within the new institutions which
are creating new approaches even against recalcitrant attitudes
and habits, and also via the new institutions challenging the
old ones, by a contrast effect or by outright competition, and
injecting ideas into them through the independent producers as
well. Venezuela has also embarked on a continental station, to
broadcast news and the voices of the poor throughout Latin America,
but we didn't have a chance to visit so as to comment on that.
Regarding the economy, Venezuela starts
out with huge advantages compared to other third world countries.
The oil industry is nationalized and is the centerpiece of the
society's economy. Moreover the oil industry provides a gigantic
flow of revenues, unlike what any other dissident country has
ever enjoyed while trying to chart a new path for itself. Likewise,
oil not only provokes great U.S. interest, it also provides considerable
defense against U.S. intervention.
We were told by an oil industry official,
however, that there are still many transnational firms who contract
for various aspects of oil business in Venezuela. The government's
reaction, he said, was not to challenge them, much less expropriate
them, but to form new co-ops doing the same functions, intended
to out compete the transnationals. These new co-ops are worker
self managed. They usually are seeking equal wages and even in
the least egalitarian ones the ratio is at most three to one.
In addition, a minimum social wage is guaranteed. An idea slowly
being implemented is to federate the coops, facilitating their
interacting and exchanging via social rather than market norms.
The vision, it seemed to me, is that in time contracts will go
almost exclusively to the co-ops so that the transnationals will
simply leave, of their own accord, no confrontation needed.
I asked if officials thought using competing
on the market as the strategy to drive out transnationals risked
entrenching market mentalities, but the question wasn't really
understood. Similarly, my asking whether officials were worried
that utilizing as a key strategy market competition would impose
on self management old style aims and means, greatly reducing
its latitude for change and perhaps even causing it to give way
to new hierarchies, also didn't resonate. There is immense opposition
to capitalism and its private ownership. There is major opposition
to large disparities in income. There is considerable opposition
to gaps in job types yielding passivity versus domination. But
only a few people seem to be hostile to markets per se.
One of the few who seem to reject markets,
however, is Chavez himself. How else can we explain his approach
to international economics which not only predictably rejects
the IMF, WTO, World Bank, and particularly the FTAA, but is beginning
to hammer out an alternative based on mutual aid and, in effect,
violating market exchange rates to instead undertake transactions
in light of true and full social costs and benefits, and with
a commitment to sharing gains from exchanges not just equally,
but more advantageously for the poorer participants. This certainly
seems to be the logic of the wide array of agreements into which
Venezuela is entering with not only Cuba but many neighboring
countries, as well as specific occupied factories throughout Latin
America, for example providing oil at amazingly low rates and
beneficial terms, often in exchange for goods, not payments. This
is quite like Cuba's historic sending of aid and items to poorer
countries at cut rates, but the scale is tremendously increased,
and where Cuba primarily offered people, as in doctors, Venezuela
is doing this with resources and economic products, more directly
subverting specifically market logic.
Returning to my exchange with the oil
official, when I asked about CITGO - the oil industry owned by
Venezuela operating in the U.S. - moving toward having a workers
council to self manage it, moving toward equal wages, and changing
its division of labor, not only on behalf of those working at
CITGO but as a demonstration inside the U.S. for other U.S. workers
of the potential of self management and equity, the official was
very excited, even wanting to immediately call others to talk
about this idea. Later discussion of the related possibility of
Venezuela making inroads, via CITGO or otherwise, into media and
information dispersal in the U.S., instead of information incursions
always occurring only in the reverse direction, caused still more
We were told by the oil ministry officials
and also by trade unionists and others how in Venezuela, like
in Argentina, there was a movement, just getting up to speed,
to "recuperate" failing or failed workplaces. The difference
was that while in Argentina this occurs against the inclinations
of government, in Venezuela the government welcomes and even propels
it. Indeed, the government has now assembled a list of 700 such
plants and is urging workers to occupy and operate them on their
own. Another difference, however, is that in Venezuela the method
of decision-making adopted for the recuperated plants is called
co-management and involves both a workers council and government
representatives. The upside of this is that the government is
often to the left of the local workforce in the affected workplace
helping educate and prod it. The downside is that the centralizing
inclination of the government and the participatory inclination
of real self management are in opposition. We saw both these tendencies
in the Bolivarian University, with the government minister pushing
radical pedagogy on sometimes contrary faculty, but also reducing
the influence of the workers council. In fact, however, it seemed
for the moment, in any case, the government was so over stretched
that if there are widespread recuperations, government involvement
will be slight and workers will in practice be left to self manage.
Beyond a factory recuperation movement
in Venezuela the government also creates new co-ops from scratch.
These are also co-managed, at least in theory, and also tend to
seek equitable remuneration, etc. These co-ops have often been
small and local, everything from little dress shops to small construction
projects, but plans exist for creating new firms to produce computers,
mine resources, run an airline, etc.
As I understood what I heard, the co-ops
are expected to out-compete old capitalist firms - a very reasonable
expectation given that the co-ops have lower overhead (due to
reduced management pay rates, reduced numbers of managers, and
altered job roles), and that co-op workers have an inclination
to produce more consistently and energetically under the new social
relations. The danger of the co-op strategy, however, is that
operating via market norms and methods and specifically trying
to out-compete old firms in market-defined contests may entrench
in them a managerial bureaucracy and a competitive rather than
social orientation, leading more toward what is called market
socialism, which in my view is a system that still has a ruling
managerial or coordinator class and that operates in light of
competitive prices and surplus-seeking, instead of the approach
pushing them toward what the most radical Venezuelans clearly
desire, which is a classless, participatory, and self managing
economy, in which people are socially motivated and are well off
and efficient, operating in light of full social implications
seeking both personal and collective well being.
In capitalist firms, still dominant in
economic sectors other than oil, there is a change in mood as
well. Workers identify more with the state and feel it is an ally,
providing by its initiatives, in the words of a trade union leader,
"a more promising moment for change." This has led to
workers in capitalist firms "challenging old union norms
and methods" and feeling uncomfortable being "stuck
in old relations while others are building new co-ops." This
trade union leader estimated that "80% of Venezuela's workers
firmly support Chavez." She also said this is why the better
unions are thinking about pushing for self management even against
capitalist owners. She said "while at first occupying failing
firms was just self defense" seeking to protect "jobs
and union freedoms," more recently more radical unions are
seeking "more consistent strategies to win co-management
or self management."
She told us that "five or six years
ago the typical Venezuelan worker would not exhibit any class
consciousness, but now the Bolivarian revolution was awakening
class consciousness not only in workers, but in all people."
I asked what would happen if "workers in a successful capitalist
firm, knowing friends in coops or recuperated firms who enjoyed
controlling their conditions and having equitable incomes, struck
against their owners and petitioned the government to take over
the firm and make it self managed." She talked about how
arrangements would likely be made providing the private owners
"credits and investments if they would undertake co-management
with the workers." I wondered why businesspeople "would
make such a stupid deal when it was clearly just a first step
toward their disappearing. Why would they do it, even with short
term benefits?" I also asked again about "workers wanting
to take over a really successful firm, not giving the owners anything,
but just taking over? Why weren't workers all over Venezuela seeking
that? And what would happen if they did?"
The trade union leader replied that "of
course the businesspeople are not stupid, but they believe we
are." She talked about unions spreading "the revolutionary
virus into the workers" and I asked again, how come it didn't
spread quickly, all on its own? She blamed "old union leaders,
afraid of taking new steps." But she also said that "just
two years ago no one would have believed a worker managed factory
was possible but now there are over 20, with over 700 under study
for occupation to get them back to work." She pointed out
the need to do all this "along with raising consciousness
of people." She said, "going too fast, without people
wanting it, wouldn't work." And she noted that the businesspeople
are "still trying to manipulate and buy off the workers,
and especially the leaders."
I also asked this trade union leader,
who was explicitly responsible for international relations, about
links with movements and unions in the U.S. She reported Venezuelan
Chavista unions having links to the "AFL-CIO in California,
some grass-roots unions, and the antiwar movement," but not
with the national AFL-CIO because they are still giving money
to those imposing old bureaucracy and fomenting coups."
I asked her what proportion of the paid
workforce was female and she replied, "about 50%." I
asked about women's salaries compared to men's and she said there
was no difference for the same jobs, but "women didn't get
as good jobs as men." I asked if things were better in the
occupied factories, and she said "As far as I can tell things
are somewhat better, yes, but not ideal." She said "The
double duty of women is the biggest obstacle to their deeper involvement
in union work." I asked if the Bolivarian movement was trying
to address this and she said "The new constitution says domestic
work has to be acknowledged as work for social security purposes,"
but I asked about men and women doing it more equally and she
said that that "was progressing very very slowly. At the
grassroots level lots of women participate, despite double or
even triple work, but our men are very macho, and regrettably
many women spoil them by doing all household work." She said
her situation was unusual because she got lots of help at home.
From my trip it seemed to me that
(1) The Bolivarian movement, and in particular
President Hugo Chavez, is pushing the population leftward. Even
more, the Bolivarian movement, and particularly President Hugo
Chavez, is seeking to replace old capitalist forms with new forms
that they call anti-capitalist, participatory, socialist, and
Bolivarian, among other labels. They are not directly and forcefully
challenging and taking over or removing old structures. They are
operating legally in the interstices of society to nurture new
forms into existence and to then show by contrast and via socially
acceptable competition that Venezuela's old forms are inferior,
expecting that in time the new forms will legally win out over
the old. But as to what these new forms are, there is far more
clarity concerning political norms and structures than economic
ones. One would like to see a national exploration, debate, and
consciousness-raising campaign aimed at clarifying and advocating
the ultimate goals of the revolution, and at making knowledge
of its goals and continuous critique and enrichment of them a
national possession, not a possession only of some leaders.
(2) The Bolivarians' unusual transitional
approach has as its vanguard aspect that the Bolivarian leadership
is ideologically and programmatically far ahead of its populace
and trying to get that populace to move further and faster than
it is alone inclined to. It has as its anarchist aspect, however,
that the movement is being nourished, even if by a national president,
mostly from the bottom up. It seeks to exist in parallel and to
become prevalent without violence and even without confrontation.
It seeks to embody the seeds of the future in the present to avoid
generating a new domination. It is trying to win adherents by
evidence, not force.
(3) The centrality of a single leader,
at least that it is Hugo Chavez, seems to be a highly unexpected
benefit. Chavez, so far, has not just been congenial and inspiring,
audacious and courageous, willing to step outside every box and
implement program after program, experimenting and learning, but
has also shown remarkable restraint in utilizing the accoutrements
of central power and has even been a key source of anti-authoritarian
influence. At the same time, it is also true that the centrality
of a single leader, Hugo Chavez, though perhaps unavoidable, is
also a debit. The leader could turn bad, or could disappear, and
at this point either turn of events would be calamitous. A related
problem is the lack of a serious opposition on the left. Revolution
benefits from disagreement, debate, and diversity, but those attributes
have trouble arising amidst a siege mentality. One wonders who
will succeed Chavez, and how the people will succeed the leaders,
unless there is massive popular education in leadership and the
(4) Finally, the idea of out-competing
the old system with a new one created in parallel is very cleverly
beneficial in that it avoids undue premature conflict that might
bring down holy hell on the Bolivarian project even as it also
draws on strengths and sidesteps weaknesses. But the idea of out-competing
the old system with a new one created in parallel is also at least
in one respect detrimental because it risks ingraining competitive
qualities and methods and buttressing bureaucratic and classist
structures, and because it may ignore some recalcitrant features
from the past that need early dramatic attention lest they later
drag down the whole project.
My overall impression was that the Bolivarian
revolution is still vague. It doesn't have clearly enunciated
feminist politics, anti-racist politics, or even anti-capitalist
politics, though in all three cases the inclinations are incredibly
humane and radical and are moving rapidly forward toward enunciating
full aims and proposing immediate program in that light. Chavez
appears to be a remarkable detonator of insights, himself moving
leftward at a great pace. The Bolivarian revolution is most ideologically
clear, which is ironic and a powerful testimony on his behalf,
given Chavez's military background, regarding political democracy
and political participation where it seems to be already committed
to a well conceived, compelling and innovative institutional vision
that outstrips what any other revolutionary project since the
Spanish anarchists has held forth.
The future is not certain. The Bolivarian
revolution could still stall in social democracy. Co-management
and not self management could lead that way. It could still stumble
or even rush into typical old style "socialist" channels.
Its market strategies and lack of clarity about class divisions
based on divisions of labor, not property, push that way. There
is always a danger of authoritarianism when a government is prodding
a populace, of course. But the Bolivarian revolution could also,
however, provide a remarkable model, both of a better world and
of a very original way to arrive at that better world. Which of
these results, or of others, happens, is largely going to be up
to Chavez, the Bolivarian movements, and the Venezuelan people,
though mass external support, not least to restrain U.S. aggressive
inclinations before they can corrupt or destroy the experiment,
are also profoundly needed.
I left Venezuela inspired and very hopeful.
Venezuela looks to me like Uncle Sam's worst nightmare. I was
humbled by Bolivarian ingenuity and steadfastness and by my own
continued citizenship in the world's most rogue and brutal nation,
against which I and other radicals have had such limited organizing
success. Hopefully my country can follow Venezuela's lead rather
than crushing its aspirations. Hopefully, citizens in the U.S.
can make that happen. Officials won't, of course.